Holy Family Elementary School will not reopen this fall - Catholic Courier
The outside of a school building.

Holy Family Elementary School in Elmira will not reopen for the 2023-24 school year. (Courier file photo)

Holy Family Elementary School will not reopen this fall

Holy Family Elementary School in Elmira — one of the few remaining diocesan Catholic schools in the Southern Tier — will not reopen for the 2023-24 school year due to declining enrollment and mounting financial concerns.

Father Scott Kubinski, pastor of Elmira’s Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish, announced the 125-year-old school’s closing during a June 9 meeting with school staff. He issued an email notification to students’ families later that day and informed parishioners at weekend Masses June 10-11.

The announcements followed Bishop Salvatore R. Matano’s June 6 approval of Father Kubinski’s formal recommendation to close the school.

Enrollment declines factored into decision to close Elmira school

Father Kubinski told the Catholic Courier that Holy Family had been considered for closure a year ago, noting that the prekindergarten through sixth-grade school began 2022-23 with just 97 students rather than the 125 needed for sustainability. A variety of marketing, promotional and fundraising efforts were employed in recent months to help boost future attendance, he said, noting that cost-cutting possibilities — such as eliminating the fifth and six grades or combining classrooms — also were weighed for 2023-24.

James Tauzel, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, said he had been working with the parish as well as Holy Family’s principal, Mary Ann Lacey, since February 2023 to find a model that would allow the school to remain open this fall.

“I’m never for a school closing,” Tauzel said, adding that he greatly appreciates the volunteers from the school community who worked so hard to keep Holy Family afloat.

However, Father Kubinski said, no plan ultimately emerged that combined financial sustainability and sufficient support from families. By early May, the number of students registered for 2023-24 was just 69, and by June 5, that number had fallen to 57, according to the pastor. He said Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish would have lost several hundred thousand dollars to keep the school open.

“That approached half of our collection, for a small number of families who weren’t even necessarily churchgoers. It’s hard to support that. You can’t put in that kind of money year after year,” Father Kubinski remarked. “It just got to a point where I didn’t see any other option. Nobody wanted to close the school, but it’s got to be sustainable.”

In his letter to families, Father Kubinski also noted that “finances were not the only consideration. Small classes are not ideal in terms of psychosocial development for children.”

The letter cited several factors that led to the school’s closing: declining overall population in Elmira; higher cost of living for families; disruption of daily life due to the COVID pandemic; and increased availability of universal pre-K and charter schools in the Elmira City School District.

Tauzel said his office will work with Holy Family staff and school families to help with relocating students for the fall. Father Kubinski said a number of Holy Family students will likely enroll at St. Mary Our Mother, a pre-K through sixth-grade school in Horseheads, which is seven miles to the north.

Holy Family School has 125-year history in Elmira

Holy Family’s origins date to 1898 when it opened as St. Mary School, the parish school for St. Mary Southside Parish. The school has been located at 421 Fulton St. throughout its history and, for much of that time, was staffed by Sisters of St. Joseph. In 1986, the school’s name was changed to Holy Family Primary School (pre-K through third grade) as part of a consolidation with other area Catholic schools. In 2009, it became Holy Family Elementary School (pre-K through fifth grade) via another consolidation.

Its closing leaves Horseheads’ St. Mary Our Mother as the only diocesan elementary school in a five-county area (Chemung, Tompkins, Tioga, Steuben and Schuyler) in the southern portion of the Rochester Diocese. Other elementary schools in that region that have closed over the past 11 years are St. Ann, Hornell (2012); St. Patrick, Owego (2015); Immaculate Conception, Ithaca (2017); and and All Saints, Corning (2022).

In addition, Holy Family Middle School closed in 2012, at which time sixth and seventh grades were added to Elmira’s Notre Dame High School and a sixth grade was added at Holy Family Elementary. Notre Dame remains a grades 7 through 12 school today.

Tauzel said he hopes that families who cannot easily access Catholic schools where they live will place increased emphasis on parish faith-formation programs as well as opportunities to learn the Catholic faith at home.

Tags: Catholic Schools
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